This weekend, I had my sister-in-law’s baby shower to attend in Saratoga, NY. Since I would have to be in town for the shower anyway, I decided to add another purpose to my trip – the Adirondack Distance Run.
The Adirondack Distance Run is a 10 mile race that begins at Lake George High School (or this year, the Fire Department), takes two turns to get out to the main road, and then turns onto the lake road and heads north along the shore for 10 miles before finishing in Bolton Landing. I had run it way back in 2007, when I first got into running races, and at the time, it was my longest distance ever. As with many of the races I ran back then, I did it thinking that this was finally the distance at which I’d hit my breaking point – after all, I wasn’t someone who could run 10 miles! – and was shocked when I actually completed the race. I didn’t blog at the time, so there’s no race report, but I vividly remember going back and forth with a 75 year old woman on the steep hills, and yet still being proud that I had managed to finish (even if she dusted me in the end).
My dad dropped me off at the start of the race, and after hitting the portapotties, I decided to check in with the PR list I keep on my blog – and discovered that the Adirondack Distance Run was actually my fastest 10 miler (surprising, given how inexperienced I was and also how hilly the course was), and that I had run it in 1:37 – or about a 9:50 pace per mile. I laughed to see that, knowing that I’ve since run marathons (more than 2.5 times the distance) at a much faster pace. I was pretty sure today was going to be a PR day for me – the question was, by how much?
One of the problems with not training is that you don’t know what you’re capable of achieving, so it makes it harder to set the pace for races. On the one hand, minimizing training can help to prevent injury – it’s less pounding on your feet, and it also prevents you from setting race goals that you keep pushing for even when it’s “not your day” and you ought to ease up. I remembered the hilly course for this race and probably sandbagged myself by aiming for a 9:00 pace per mile – but now it’s over, I’m wondering how much faster I could have gone if I had set my sights higher. The MacMillan Running Calculator is a great tool to help you set realistic race goals based on recent performances, and in retrospect, I wish I had used it to push myself just a bit harder.
However, I started the race as I always do – running by feel rather than by pace. I hadn’t brought my Garmin along for such a short race, and instead relied on the split times that were called out at each mile marker (helpful!) to tell me my time and also entertain me for a minute or so each time as I mentally calculated my average pace and how much that had changed since the last mile marker. Because the first mile was primarily in Lake George Village, it was relatively flat, so I wasn’t too surprised by the 8:12 pace I pulled. (I also figured that I had probably surged a bit fast at the beginning of the race after getting caught up in the excitement of the start, and that I’d soon slow down.) However, when mile 2 started getting hilly and I still managed to clock in with an 8:32 split, I realized that perhaps the pace wasn’t as aggressive as I thought. I decided to strive to maintain a sub-8:30 average pace as long as I could – it might not last me the whole race, but it was (I thought) a good goal to have.
The day was not quite as hot as I had feared and anticipated – “feels like” temps were probably only in the high 70s since we were getting the breezes from Lake George; however, I was still sweating a decent amount and definitely working hard. Since I always use mental tricks to get me through races, I tried pretending that I was at mile 18 of a marathon, since that was the equivalent of just 8 miles to go. Unfortunately, thinking of it that way wasn’t very motivational! Part of it stemmed from the fact that at mile 18 of a marathon, I’m often keeping a steady pace while others are slowing down (giving me a mental boost when I’d pass people); here, everyone was steady and fast. I wasn’t really passing people, but then, they weren’t passing me either – it seemed the field was pacing itself a lot more steadily than what you see in a marathon.
I started thinking about the differences between a short race like this and a marathon, and the more I thought about it, the more I thought it was interesting that people train so differently for the two. I know that RRCA teaches different approaches based on whether you’re running a 5K sprint or a full marathon, but it seems to me that they shouldn’t really be all that different. I think for short races, people usually run that distance or longer in training (at least if it’s not their first race of that distance and they’re trying for speed), which prepares their muscles and helps them to practice pacing. In contrast, so many people think that doing one or two 20 mile long runs will prepare them for a marathon – but there’s a lot that happens in those last 6 miles. I didn’t see nearly the amount of fatigue in the last few miles of the 10 mile race that I usually see in the last few miles of a marathon, and it further strengthened my belief that more long distance runs can be incredibly beneficial for marathon training. (Feel free to debate this with me in the comments, as I’m sure many of you feel otherwise.)
As I continued the race, I saw some empty gel packets on the ground, and struck me that all the aid stations had water (not Gatorade). I usually start drinking Gatorade as soon as its available (both for the electrolytes and the continuous calories), but today, I felt just fine and fully energized all the way through the end of the race. I was surprised so many people felt the need to have gels, since it seemed to me that as long as you had eaten a substantial breakfast, you wouldn’t need them for such a short race. While I had learned a bit about the importance of refueling during my RRCA training, I made a mental note to do more research on the physiological effects of carb depletion later. Fortunately, I have a Greatist article assignment on carb loading coming up – I’m sure I’ll learn a lot from it!
After a few more big hills, I found myself at the halfway point – and in only 42 minutes. The volunteer calling out the splits at mile 5 kept telling runners that the second half of the course was easier than the first, but having been burnt by well-intentioned-but-completely-incorrect volunteers and spectators before, I didn’t know whether that was accurate. (Yet another example of a time when I really should have looked at the course map in advance – please learn from my mistakes even if I don’t seem to!) Having originally anticipated a finish time of 90 minutes, I waited for a downhill and then made a quick call to my dad to let him know I’d finish a bit earlier than I expected. I figured at the worst case, he’d be there a few minutes early. It was nice to have such a short finishing window (80-90 minutes) rather than the longer ones I’m used to with marathons (225-275 minutes) – certainly makes it easier for spectators trying to catch their runner at the finish.
By this point in the race, though, it made more sense to me to think of the distance remaining as part of a marathon. Once I hit 20-22 miles in the marathon, it seems like a very short run, so even though it was only halfway here, it helped me to think of it like that last bit of a race. The hills were definitely starting to wear on me, but reminding myself that I only had 45 minutes to go made it seem totally manageable, and helped me mentally to keep pushing myself rather than giving up and slowing down. I switched to my “Power Songs” playlist to close out the race, and the miles ticked by pretty quickly. Before I knew it, there was just one mile remaining.
I tried to kick it into high gear for this last mile, but I was pretty tired at this point, ultimately managing only a 16 second uptick over my 8:21 average pace for the entire race. I tried to take advantage of the downhills to fly past other runners, but we were all pretty steady and evenly matched. Again, what a difference between this and a marathon! Sorry for harping on it, but it just struck me as so interesting to note the differences in a short race vs a medium or long distance, which is the majority of what I’ve run in the last few years.
I crossed the finish line with the clock reading well under 1:25, and couldn’t believe it. When I first ran this race, I thought I had done pretty well for myself finishing under a 10 minute pace, but I had just taken 13 minutes off my finish time and more than 90 seconds off my per mile pace! I was so proud of myself to see how far I’d come in the last few years. I especially couldn’t believe the fact that some people wearing yellow “Team Utopia” singlets, which I had always thought of as “the elite fast runners” (it’s an invite-only running club in Albany) had actually finished behind me. Obviously, my definition of “elite” may have been a bit skewed when I first started running, but it was just so exciting to see the progress I had made.
Of course, some things never change – like my hilarious dad’s cluelessness about how races work. He had taken his shirt off while waiting for me at the finish, since it was a hot day (and apparently we are rednecks). While he was walking by the end of the finish chute to find me, a volunteer mistook him for a runner and offered him a medal. Instead of returning it, like a normal person would have done, he put it on! When I noticed and questioned him on it, he claimed that he was getting it for me since he didn’t know if I had gotten one. Um, thanks, Dad – but I definitely did! :) It took me two tries to convince him that he couldn’t keep it and had to return it, and I ended up following him and watching to make sure he didn’t just put it in his pocket to give to my little sister later. Too funny!
Overall, a fabulous race – and one I’d love to come back and try again. Maybe next year I can really shoot for the stars and aim for an 8 minute pace? I never would’ve thought that possible, but you never know unless you try! :)
Distance: 10 miles
Pace: 8:27 / mile
Overall place: 221/549
Gender place: 71/277